Confidence grows as troops take solid positions in Baghdad

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

U.S. forces set up a base in central Baghdad and a warplane dropped bunker-busting bombs aimed at President Saddam Hussein and his two sons. President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the battlefield and plans for a postwar Iraq.

Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after dawn Tuesday, sending fighters to overrun U.S. soldiers holding a strategic intersection leading to a bridge over the Tigris River. U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed and two U.S. soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by rooftop snipers.

In the midst of Monday's assault on Baghdad, a lone B-1B bomber carried out a massive strike on what the coalition described as a ''leadership target'' in the upscale al-Mansour neighborhood where senior Iraqi officials, possibly including Saddam and his two sons, were believed to be meeting. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American intelligence learned of the high-level meeting Monday morning.

Email newsletter signup

It was not clear who was killed; the strike left a smoking crater of dirt and concrete 60 feet deep and destroyed three nearby houses. Iraqi rescue workers pulled three bodies from the rubble but said the toll could be as high as 14. There were no unusual security measures; a reporter was able to examine the site, talk with neighbors and watch the search without interference.

U.S. troops in Baghdad have no plans to pull back, Army Col. David Perkins said Tuesday. They now control most of the west bank of the Tigris, which divides the city, and they plan to join up with U.S. forces at the airport, further west. The Marines are advancing from the east.

''We survived the first night, and that's usually the most difficult one,'' said Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade.

The soldiers hunkered down in the sprawling, blue-and-gold-domed New Presidential Palace, where Saddam once slept, and patrolled neighborhoods in the city's center. At least a dozen Iraqis were being held in a hastily erected holding pen on the grounds.

As American and British forces advanced, their political leaders met in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the second summit for Bush and Blair since the fighting began. At a press conference, the leaders said they were committed to rebuilding the country.

''When the war is finished, it will not be easy, but we're going to see it through. The free Iraq will be ruled by law and not by a dictator,'' Bush said. ''A free Iraq will give up all its weapons of mass destruction. A free Iraq will set itself on the path of democracy.''

As airstrikes continued Tuesday, Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera reported its office was bombed, killing one staffer. While the network's cameras rolled, a second bomb fell in the same neighborhood on the Tigris, where a number of TV channels have offices. Abu Dhabi TV said its office had also been hit.

Later, the Palestine Hotel, home base for many journalists, was struck by tank fire. A television cameraman for Reuters news agency was killed and at least four other journalists were injured.